Thursday, August 31, 2006

Daniel Scott Buck: The Greatest Show on Earth

But for one little problem -- which I will come to at the end -- Daniel Scott Buck's The Greatest Show on Earth could easily have been published by Random House or Little Brown or HarperCollins. It is a fully professional, rather polished, thoughtful, well conceived and well executed piece of work. You can easily imagine (apart from the one little problem) this novel being in the same catalogue as, for example, John Barlow's Intoxicated.

As things are, however, The Greatest Show on Earth is published by iUniverse, which means self-published. And it is therefore further proof, if you need any, that it would be a very big mistake to dismiss all the output of such firms as worthless rubbish.

Daniel Scott Buck works as an investigator at the public defender's office in Portland, Oregon, so you would expect him, perhaps, to write a novel about crime. But this isn't about crime. It's about Reality TV -- a term which may or may not require a capital R.

Now if you've got a long memory, and you've been reading this blog for a while, you will recall that I too wrote a novel about reality TV. My novel is called How and why Lisa's Dad got to be famous, and there's a link to it in the right-hand column of this blog.

Both my novel and Daniel Scott Buck's could reasonably be called satires. But if we compare the two, we find differences. My satire is English and under-stated; it's a rather elderly pussy-cat, a bit sleepy, lacking most of her teeth, and not likely to do much harm to anyone. Daniel's book, by contrast, is a hungry tiger, with very sharp claws, immensely powerful jaws, and a nasty temper; make one wrong move and you get your head bitten off.

The blurb on the back of Daniel's book also describes it as a black comedy, which is true I think, though it's more black than comedy. And the blurb adds that 'satire, it has been said, is not possible in America because everything eventually comes true.... The Greatest Show on Earth is a timely commentary about the media frenzy surrounding allegations of sex abuse.'

What happens in this book, essentially, is that a young woman (Meme Lamb -- not the most subtle of nomenclatures) who is desperate for fame and attention meets a 'psychotherapist' who is also desperate for celebrity and will do anything to achieve it. The pair of them then get thrown in with a reality-TV huckster who doesn't care what lies are told or who gets hurt so long as he gets the ratings.

This portrait of the therapist as con artist is both so ridiculous as to be comic and yet, at one and the same time, painfully close to a good many familiar faces on television. How many sad and confused people are there who have been convinced, by some (at best) well-meaning fool that they have 'repressed' the memory of childhood sexual abuse? And as far as UK citizens are concerned, this book will also bring to mind all those therapists and social workers who succeeded in separating scores of children from their parents because of alleged 'satanic abuse' -- the evidence for which was, to most observers, non-existent. (See the latest issue of Private Eye for yet another account of their influence.)

Before long, Meme's apartment is fully wired for sound and vision (just as Harry's house was in my book). And when the TV show starts, and the therapist is under pressure to produce yet more and more cases of multiple personality, lives previously lived as Egyptian slave girls, and so forth, we are once again reminded that you have only to switch on your TV to see only slightly less extreme examples of real-life manipulation of the gullible, both as participants and spectators.

And now, perhaps, you begin to see why this book isn't published by Random House, Little Brown, or HarperCollins. It's because it's too brutally, painfully true. Too upsetting, too worrying, too likely to offend too many influential people.

Any reasonable book editor, reading this, would have turned pale with horror at the thought of what it might do to her career. My goodness me, she would have said (or words to that effect), this man is criticising television! He exhibits a deep-seated contempt for the self-help industry! He clearly has no time for counsellors, advisors, therapists!

Holy excrement, what will the guy do next? His next book might -- falls into panic attack and begins Cheyne-Stoking -- criticise politics! Or he might even criticise -- blacks out entirely but can just be heard saying as she falls to the floor: -- religion! Arrrgghhhhh! Fails to be be revived by concerned secretary, and, at the subsequent inquest, the coroner orders that the offending manuscript be destroyed before it can damage anyone else.

Apart from the author's own home page, there are several web sites associated with this book, all of which (just to set you right) are postmodernist conceits. Meme Lamb has her own little rant; and you can, of course, buy products which carry her name. Why not? The woman is a star! She's been on TV! And then there's an opportunity to audition for the S&M Show. Hey! Don't worry about the blood! It's not real! This is TV!

Read the book.

11 comments:

Andrew O'Hara said...

Al Gore, of all people, made an intelligent point. “It’s the combination of narcissism and nihilism that really defines postmodernism.” In that I stopped watching television long ago, I’m fortunate to have only heard of the “reality television” rage, so won’t need to add this book to my list. Another good score for self-publishing, however.

dh said...

I think you've just given me an idea for a reality show. You put a bunch of aspiring novelists on a desert island, mix up the races and genders a bit obviously, and give them a month to write a novel about the experience, which, of course, would be made into a TV show. OK, it needs a bit of work.

Jessica Bartlett said...

This really is a fabulous book. I stumbled upon it by chance, but have now read it four times. I think you can still get copies on Amazon.

O'Grady said...

thanks for the raving review of daniel's book. he is a good guy. i have yet to read the novel but heard excerpts when we did a reading together last year and it rocked. cheers.

Lucas Hyde said...

When I read your review, Grumpy, and the comments, I thought somebody who liked a novel like that might be interested in my novel Hypnosis (I said might). I can't put my finger on exactly why I thought that, but I did think it, honest. It's free to download - just click on my name to get to the download page. Hope someone likes it. Hope I'm not making a nuisance of myself.

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Anonymous said...

Didn't he write a book long before this? "I hate my mother"- or something like that? (I'm especially interested because while I don't really know him, he IS my cousin... And thus his "mother"- whom I have known my entire life- is my aunt.)